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Arkansas State University

Predicting and Preventing Crime


What Is Criminology?

Criminology is first and foremost the study of crime. More specifically, it is a branch of sociology that examines the causes of crime and its effects on society.

Criminologists say that there are four necessary components to a crime:

  1. The law: Someone must disregard or violate a law.
  2. The offender: Someone must commit the crime.
  3. The victim: An individual or a community suffers from the crime.
  4. The place: The crime occurs in a specific location bound by local and federal laws.

Environmental criminology is one of several disciplines in the criminology field, and it primarily focuses on the last component: the place.

This aspect of criminology analyzes how conditions in a given area might positively or negatively affect crime rates. Are the crimes that occur in one sort of neighborhood different than the crimes that occur in a different neighborhood? Even geographically similar areas might have enough divergent factors to become statistically significant.

How Do Criminologists Study Crime?

A key part of categorizing environmental elements that affect crime levels is recognizing patterns. Identifying whether a neighborhood is well-lit or not and whether the buildings are maintained are factors that criminologists take into account. The Broken Windows Theory is one example. The theory proposes that buildings with broken windows in a certain area let a potential criminal know that this area is not maintained or policed very well and that they will probably get away with a crime.

However, the pattern of environmental factors often runs deeper than visual or aesthetic cues. The general education level of an area’s residents, as well as the availability of job opportunities, can also contribute heavily to crime.

Criminologists also often interview criminals to try and figure out which factors in their lives might have most significantly led them to commit a crime. Understanding why crimes occur is critical to the prevention process.

How Do Criminologist Assist Law Enforcement?

All of the crime data that criminologists compile is invaluable to law enforcement officers. These officers often use criminologists’ data to create a crime map that reveals hot spots with high crime rates where future offenses are likely to occur. This can let police know which areas need more frequent patrols, for example.

Police departments also frequently rely on criminologists to contribute data and make recommendations for the development of new official policies. Extensive research on all the relevant factors is necessary, and criminologists can use this data to provide statistical evidence in support of the best courses of action.

What Are Some Examples of Policies?

Before the concept of criminology became so widely accepted, most of a police department’s time, money and effort went to dealing with crimes that had already occurred. Now, because we have so much information about the causes of crime, law enforcement officials can identify and solve many problems before they occur.

One of the most effective preventive policies in law enforcement has been to build strong community partnerships. By working with community leaders and local organizations, the police can build trust with the people in a neighborhood, and they can more accurately understand their needs and concerns.

Criminologists have also influenced policies dealing with the perception and treatment of criminals. For example, the push to implement results-oriented and evidence-based solutions for juvenile offenders relies on criminological research. Taking into account the psychology of the adolescent brain and the sociology of the environment that many of these young offenders grew up in has proven important in fairly and effectively sentencing them.

As investigative technology inevitably becomes more sophisticated, more qualified and eager people will be necessary to study and interpret the data. The growing field of environmental criminology will continue to be critical to law enforcement policy development, and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology could help you become part of meeting that need.

Learn more about the Arkansas State online BA in Criminology program.



The Balance: Environmental Criminology

Safe Design Council: Environmental Criminology

JJGPS: Juvenile justice services

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